Black Sorority members have a colorful history of impressive first in many different arenas, and this story is no different. What many people do not realize, however, was that the first president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority was also the first African-American woman to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
A Family of Leaders
Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander was born in 1898 and holds the honor of being the second African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. and the first to practice law in Pennsylvania. She, however, was not the only person in her family to do amazing things. One brother was a pharmacist, her sister a college dean, and another brother was a doctor.
Even her parents and grandparents were outstanding leaders in the African American community. Her grandfather, Benjamin Tucker Tanner, was a bishop in the newly formed AME church, and her father also held an impressive first – the first African-American to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania law school. Gifted with a legacy of leaders, led to her determination to do great things as well.
The Challenges of Being Black with a PH. D
Sadie Alexander passed the Philadelphia Bar in 1927 but was not immediately rewarded with work. Although there was much growth in the African American community at the time, there were very few African American women with her amount of education.
That is why it is no surprise that although Alexander was highly educated, she struggled to find work at first. To land her first job she needed to move to North Carolina, where she was hired by a Black-owned Insurance company. Later she went to law school, where she then worked at her husband’s law firm. She did not form her practice until 1976.
Committed to the Law
Being the first at many things was not enough for this Black leader. Sadie additionally served as Philadelphia’s’ Assistant City Solicitor, and, combined with her husband, was active in the legal aspects of the civil rights movement. In 1952, she joined the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, and she even was the first women secretary of the National Bar Association.
Throughout her life, this civil right activist was dedicated to the American legal system. She lived to be 91 years old and amazingly practiced law until she was 84 years old. She died from complications due to Alzheimer’s disease.